October 15, 2012 Geographer Neil Smith (18 June 1954 – 29 September 2012) was one of my mentors. I wrote this short essay to try and come to terms with some of my grief over his passing in September of 2012.
Exactly thirteen days after Neil Smith died, I met Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, two extraordinary bluegrass musicians. For many New Yorkers meeting them would have been an interesting sort of social curio; something to be put away only to be pulled out and dusted off at some future cocktail party where another guest brought up Bill Monroe, ….. “Yes, Monroe was so important. You know, I once met Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum. Oh, you don’t know who they are …”, to show a kind of cultural superiority that we New Yorkers love to demonstrate. For me it was something quite different. Their 2002 CD, Birdsong, is one of my favorite albums of all time. Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum are stars to me, famous people who I have always wanted to meet.
London Calling, Murmur, Substance, and Birdsong: one of these things is not like the other things. The music of The Clash, REM, and New Order does not, in any shape form or fashion, resemble the hauntingly beautiful bluegrass music on Birdsong.
One of the songs on the album, “The Blackest Crow”, is an ancient Appalachian lament.[i] It has a tune with a pentatonic scale, something that means that it is older than old, perhaps making its way over to the Americas with the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish dissenters who came from Ulster in the 18th century and then down the eastern seaboard with them as they tried to escape the New England Quakers who thought of them as savages. It was probably played and sung as they moved down the mountain chains and displaced, killed, and married the descendents of the Coosa paramount chiefdom, one of the Muskogean-speaking chiefdoms that De Soto and Juan Pardo started down the road to dispossession in the 16th century. It may have been played and sung much earlier, when the Scottish and English ancestors of the Scotch-Irish colonized Ulster in Ireland in order to dispossess the Irish of their land and put it under the control of James VI of Scotland (who was also King James I of England). It may have even been the tune being hummed by the Scottish clans that so intrigued Karl Marx, as they were violently dispossessed of their land by the English at the dawn of capitalism.
The song, the way I hear it, tells of impending, inevitable, loss and the knowledge that the singer has of the heartbreak to come. It speaks of the choice that we make in being wiling to truly love someone given that we know that the connections we make with other humans in this world are tenuous; people leave, they move on physically and psychologically. And people die. The song reminds me that in choosing to love, we open ourselves to joy and pain equally. And the song speaks of how, when someone leaves, we feel that they are still with us and that they have written themselves, and we have written them, into our hearts and minds.
Laurie Lewis’ version of the song is heart wrenchingly, otherworldly, beautiful, as are all the other songs on Birdsong, an album comprised entirely of songs about birds and from which all the proceeds went to benefit the Audubon society in northern California. Because of this, I gave Neil, who was an avid “birder”, a copy of the CD as a birthday gift right after it was released. So instead of mustering up my too-cool New Yorker persona when I met Laurie Lewis thirteen days after Neil died, I was left speechless. I could not find words yet to narrate Neil or my grief over his passing. And then when I could speak, all I could say to this extraordinary person, was that her music was one of the many connections that I had to another extraordinary person.
Bird Watching In New Jersey
My first memory of Neil is of meeting him at a party at Dorothy Hodgson’s house in 1995 when I was a first year Ph.D. student in anthropology at Rutgers University, where Neil was a professor from 1986 to 2000. All fall semester as we worked together to develop my thinking about my proposed research, Dorothy (my Ph.D. co- advisor and my mentor) had been telling me that I needed to meet her friend and neighbor, a geographer who spent a great deal of time thinking about space and nature. I finally met him as I stood next to a bowl of olive dip at Dorothy’s holiday party. Physically, Neil was like a cross between an entrenched bulldog guarding a juicy bone and a friendly cartoon walrus. He was compact and brimming with energy and had a fuzzy out of control mustache and expressive and utterly unruly eyebrows. Although I do not actually remember this to be fact, I suspect that when introduced to me for the first time he gave me what would come to be know by everyone in my graduate-student house as “the dreaded double kiss.”
Neil was a kisser. He would lean in and envelop you with his huge capacity for love and joy and kiss you on both cheeks. I am from Appalachia, a descendent of strict Presbyterian Scotch-Irish settlers. We do not hug or kiss easily. We do not kiss our family in greeting. We do not kiss our friends in greeting. We most certainly do not kiss strangers. My graduate student housemates dubbed Neil’s kiss as “the dreaded double kiss” because, initially, it made me enormously uncomfortable. It made me feel my non-cosmopolitanism, hillbilly, background acutely.
The night we met, Neil and I only talked briefly. We agreed that at the beginning of the next semester, I would make the long trip from Douglas Campus to his office on Livingston Campus to begin a real conversation about work. I am sure that my description of my proposed Ph.D. project was so unsophisticated at that point as to be ridiculous, but Neil told me that he thought it was a great project and that he thought someone doing an ethnography of how euro-American ideas about nature and culture and indigenous ideas about nature and culture come into contact during an environmental conservation project, was a brilliant idea.
It was in this very brief exchange that I got my first glimpse of Neil’s fierce engagement with students and his ability to hear their ideas, no matter how unformed or ill thought out, and take them seriously. I had not forgotten about this exactly, but was reminded of it after he died when I started receiving e-mails from my former students. I received about thirty e-mails from former Ph.D., MA, and undergraduate students who were first introduced to Neil’s work through my teaching and mentoring. The e-mail that most made me think of Neil’s work with students was from my first student at Columbia who, in the mid 2000s after she and I read some of Neil’s work together, went down to CUNY, where Neil was a professor from 2000 until his death, to take a graduate seminar with him. Her e-mail offered her condolences but more importantly, in it she remembered how intellectually generous Neil had been to her, how he had taken her, and all the other students, seriously, and made them feel like their ideas really mattered. At that point in his career, Neil had been teaching graduate seminars about space and nature for about twenty-five years and yet he still found the teaching and the student’s thoughts on space and nature compelling.
I read Neil’s first book, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space, over the winter holiday break the January after meeting him and it literally changed my world. My whole life, I had been, like almost everyone else I knew, thinking about space and nature as having strictly geometrical and biological meanings. It had never occurred to me that space and nature were not given, that they were in anyway brought into being through human action and not simply the backdrop for, and receivers of, human action. That they were conceived, perceived, and lived in ways that brought them into the world was an astounding revelation to me. It sounds so naive to say this now, after so many years of being thought of as one of the people in anthropology who thinks about the production of space as nature, but when I read Uneven Development, it blew my mind. In that first reading, the fact of space/nature as physical, mental, and social, and the possibility of the radical shattering of space/nature by capitalism, colonialism, and the like and the reformation or production of new forms of space/ nature, came to be real for me.
I had been struggling, since my junior year in college, to understand how, where, and when Marx’s ideas about dispossession – ideas that I, because of my young reading of Capital in Dr. Gerald Ginocchio’s sociology theory seminar when I was 20, associated only with the emergence of capitalism and the working class in Britain – connected to the places in the world I was interested in. Places like Papua New Guinea, that seemed to me, at the time, far from the reaches of markets and capital. In that first reading of Uneven Development, I began to put together the pieces of what would become the conceptual and analytic focus of all of my research since.[ii]
The first time Neil and I talked about Uneven Development was in the very early spring of 1996 standing in an oak forest in Herrontown Woods near Princeton, New Jersey, while looking for birds. Herrontown Woods is one of the best places in the state to see migratory birds during the fall and spring and Neil was on the lookout for warblers. We hiked, looked for and at tiny brown birds, and talked about everything from Capital to first and second nature to why I was interested in New Guinea to our shared, yet very different, Scottish ancestry to how someone like Neil who seemed so focused on and interested in nature could be publishing a new book on gentrification and New York City. It was during that first long day talking that I realized what a far reaching intellect Neil was.
Uneven Development was essentially Neil’s Ph.D. thesis. He graduated from St. Andrews, in Scotland, in 1977 with a BS and then from Johns Hopkins in 1982 with a Ph.D. in geography. Uneven Development was published in 1984. He was twenty-eight years old when he earned his Ph.D. and started his first teaching job at Columbia University. He was only thirty when Uneven Development was published. Neil’s second single-author book, published in 1996, was The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City.
Both Uneven Development and The New Urban Frontier ask the reader, among other things, to take something (nature in the former and cities in the latter) that we take for granted as the outcomes of specific kinds of natural processes (biophysical, evolutionary in the case of nature and historic, steady, and driven by human social needs and desires in the case of cities) and then allow Neil to show us that they, as highly social forms, are actually produced by economic processes connected to the needs of capital and not to the needs of plants, animals, or people. Both of the books demonstrate how capitalism produces landscapes that are crucial for its own survival. Neil shows how the logics of capitalism emerged and how those logics necessitate particular kinds of natures and cities and how those kinds of natures and cities then feed back into the growth of capital and survival of the system. In other words, they both show that space and its productions are the key to the survival of capitalism.
Lots of scholars focus on the multiple kinds of degradations under capitalism that Neil demonstrates in these two works. However, one of the things that I took away from them early on was that since capitalism is productive of natural and urban space, and since we can track these productions and understand how, when and why they happen the way that they do, we can also imagine how other forms of social relations can be productive of natural and urban space. This became one of the driving questions of my Ph.D. work and still focuses some of my academic work today. More importantly, it focuses all of my activism.
Chicks, Grue, and Birds [iii]
During the academic year 1996/1997, Neil was the acting director of the Center the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture at Rutgers. In 1994, he, Sue Gal and Bruce Robbins had written a proposal to the Rockerfeller Foundation for funding for a three-year seminar on culture and environments in the public sphere. During Neil’s year as acting director I was a graduate student fellow at the center as well as his paid graduate research assistant. As a graduate fellow at the center, I was meant to participate in the weekly seminar, present my own work at the seminar, and interact around questions of nature and culture with the Rutgers faculty fellows and graduate fellows as well as the visiting faculty fellows and visiting post-docs. As Neil’s RA I was expected to help with the research for the book he was working on, help with some of the minor editorial duties he undertook for the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and basically do whatever he needed me to do to help run that year’s seminar smoothly.
1996/1997 was also the year that I learned that no matter how hard I work, no matter clear and focused my writing and thinking become, and no matter how kind and generous I try to be to other scholars, there are academics out there who will treat me like nothing more than a hillbilly kid from Georgia who, because of her looks, accent, and class background, must have achieved what she has achieved because she is sleeping with some man in power.
That year, one of the other Rutgers graduate student fellows started the rumor that I was sleeping with Neil early during the academic year. I was not, and never had been and never did, sleep with Neil. But the rumor flew around the center, especially among the post-docs and the graduate students. It was thought that sex was the only way I could have earned the financially secure position as an RA and the intellectually secure position as a fellow. Neil heard the rumor before I did and tried to shield me from it. He was not successful and when I finally heard it, I was devastated. I was not naïve, exactly, but I did believe that I had escaped the extraordinary sexism and misogyny that I had grown up with and faced daily in both my undergraduate years in South Carolina and my MA program at the University of Georgia. I thought that elite academic circles in the northeast would be places where sexism and misogyny were dissected, understood, and countered through scholarship and activism. Not being able to shield me from the rumor or my own inability to quickly come to terms with the reality of the sexism and misogyny among seemingly left-leaning elite academics, Neil got mad on my behalf. And from then on, he protected me. That might seem like an infantilizing thing to say, but he did. Throughout our friendship he tried to soften the blows when my naïve and optimistic ideals about the academy were shattered. And they have been shattered over and over again.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2001 when I was freshly Ph.D.’d and on the academic job market for the first time. I was lucky. I had six on-campus interviews that spring and felt reasonably secure that I would somehow land a position. Part of this security was based on my dissertation defense the previous spring when my wonderful committee (Dorothy Hodgson, George E. B. Morren, Bonnie J. McCay, and Neil) had passed my dissertation with no revisions and nominated it for a national award. Part of my security was based on Neil’s description, at that meeting, of sitting down to read my dissertation. He said that he, as we all do, put the reading off until the last minute. He recounted that the Saturday afternoon before the defense he sat down to read it, and realized a few pages in that it was not what he expected. He had not read any drafts of chapters and, I think, expected the kind of writing that he had seen from me during my year at the Center the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture. What he got, he recounted, was a book style work that forced him to open a bottle of wine, sit back, and read the whole thing in one sitting. At my defense he said that it was one of the most pleasant experiences he had ever had as an academic. That, and the fact that Dorothy had been pleased with it (finally, after what seemed like a million drafts, all of which she read carefully) made me feel like I was well placed to enter faculty life.
One of my interviews that spring was at Hunter College, one of the many “satellite” colleges of the City University of New York. Neil had been at CUNY almost a year and was, I suspect, my biggest supporter in the Hunter search. The interview went poorly and the culmination of a very bad day came at the end of my professional talk (part of the ritual of academic hiring is for prospective employees to give an hour long lecture about their research). After the talk, a truly angry member of the faculty stood up, yelled at me, and stormed out of the room. My work and my critical analysis of the ways in which environmental conservation, in some cases, dispossesses people living in highly biologically diverse areas of land, labor, and rights, struck a nerve with him. It also, I found out later, struck a nerve that Neil was one of my supporters. I managed to maintain my composure during the berating and through the rest of the interview process but on the way home, standing on the subway platform, I fell apart. I called Neil in his office at CUNY and met him to debrief. After listening to me, and agreeing that, “yes, that faculty member is a total ass-hole” and “yes, he is mad about your work because you are right,” and “yes, it was totally unprofessional and inappropriate,” Neil stopped me and gave me a serious lecture about the structural position I was about to enter into in the US university system. He was clear and brilliant and I will never forget his teaching me, in that moment, that I am and will always be labor. That my university will not love me. That my colleagues my become friends but that in the end, those in power will position us against each other, and we will position ourselves against each other, so as to compete over limited resources. And that I had to stop imagining the university as a place where everyone would have good politics.
I am a runner. Not a marathoner or even a serious six miles six times a week runner. I’m a stress runner. I tend to run to clear my mind and detoxify my mind and body of the stress of academic life. My longest runs ever were in the two years prior to my earning tenure at Columbia University in April 2009. Some of my most vivid memories of Neil are of him during those two years. He tended to be the person who, when running didn’t work and when I could catch him in town, I would talk to about the awfulness of the tenure process for me. He would listen lovingly and then, in very strong terms, tell me honestly what he thought. He would also, again in very strong terms, make clear to me when I was being justifiably paranoid and when I was being obnoxiously narcissistic. Something that is a tendency that one finds among many, many, academics.
During the year I worked for Neil at Rugers, he was also writing American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization, which was published in 2003. I think he was also collecting materials that, post 9/11, would contribute to his thinking for his 2005 book The Endgame of Globalization. As his RA some of my waged labor that year was to collect documents for his growing file on geographer Isaiah Bowman. American Empire became a book that in reconstructing the biography of Bowman also gives us the biography of geography as an academic discipline and the biography of American imperialism between World War I and the beginning of the Cold War. Bowman was all about frontiers, so-called expedition and “discovery”, conquests, environmental determinism, power through territorial control, and the emerging liberal justification for all of this in post-war America. What emerges from Neil’s analysis of Bowman is a brilliant construction of how American Neoliberal Imperial Ideology came to be and what it meant for the globe. In The Endgame of Globalization Neil drew on this analysis to show that the entry of America into the Iraq war was not simply about American oil interests, the Bush administration, or Washington D.C. neoconservatives but rather that it was directly connected to this history of imperial ideology, an ideology that economic as well as political and cultural.
Neil was already very well known before the publication of American Empire and The Endgame of Globalization but their publication pulled him into a kind of academic fame that few scholars will ever experience. From reading his CV it looks like Neil gave eighty-four invited lectures and twenty-seven keynote lectures between when I met him in 1995 and when he died. He organized eight conferences and gave talks in, among the hundreds that he gave in the United States and Canada, Ireland, Croatia, Argentina, Sweden, Hong Kong, Spain, Scotland, Britain, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, The Canary Islands, Turkey, India, Germany, Norway, Japan, Bolivia, Australia, and Mexico. Neil became a global academic celebrity.
Neil’s admonishing me, during those two years I was undergoing the tenure review, for my own narcissistic tendencies, was striking because even with his extreme academic fame, Neil never became full of himself or self-focused in a way that precluded him from paying attention to students or scholars who wanted his time at conferences or people who wanted him to come and speak or activists who wanted to strategize with him about politics or university administrators who wanted to use his brilliance to create new spaces of scholarship at CUNY or colleagues who wanted to be near him and his fame. I think Neil gave of himself to all of these people. But I also think that as his fame grew and as more and more people wanted a piece of him he lost some of the moorings that keep us all grounded in this world.
On days that I can’t run, I go to my gym in Central Harlem. I’ve been a member there since 2007 and have made more friends there than any other social site in the city. Some of my friends from the gym have become go-to people for going out, playing sports, and other social outlets. Some of my friends from the gym have a subtler role in keeping me in this world.
Every Tuesday and Thursday I go to a noon class at the gym. My routine does not vary. I arrive five minutes before the class, deposit my jacket and bag in the locker room, and then stop by the weight machine wherever my friend Jim is lifting. He and I exchange a hello, and then I go to class. After class, we meet at the water fountain and talk for a few minutes. I don’t know his last name. He is about twenty years older than me and is from the neighborhood. He has two children, one of who works and one of whom is in college. She is the first person in her family to go on post high school. Jim and I discuss things of no importance, the weather, and things of great importance, the Yankees and politics.
The point is this: Jim keeps me in this world. I look forward to seeing him. If I miss a day because of academic travel, he asks after me. If he misses a day because of going to visit his daughter at school, I ask after him. I tell him when I’m going to be in away for long periods of time for research. He tells me when he is going to be on vacation. We in this small way moor each other to the world. I think that as Neil became more and more famous, as more and more people wanted a piece of him, he somehow lost his ability to moor himself and others in this world.
Birds of Paradise
For the past fifteen years I have worked with people from the island of New Guinea. Some of these people are urban-dwelling academics, activists, and businesspeople and some of them are rural-dwelling farmers and hunters who live in places without power, roads, schools, and hospitals. Some of these rural-dwelling people speak a language called Gimi and have extraordinary, ancient, stories about Birds of Paradise – forty species of spectacularly plumed birds that are found only on New Guinea, its outlying islands, the Moluccas, and far north eastern Australia. The Gimi bird-stories are a small part of their epistemic practice, or the process by which the come to know, understand, and experience the world.
There is one Gimi story that is, now, particularly famous. I’ve written about it, as has Gillian Gillison, another anthropologist who has been privileged to spend time with Gimi peoples. It is a story that Neil loved, and one of the stories that we talked above over and over again during our many discussions about space, place, and nature in New Guinea. It is one of the stories I would remind him of when I bugged him to visit me in New Guinea, where I go every north American academic summer.
One of the last, actual in-person, not via e-mail, conversations I had with Neil before he died was about this story. I had been revisiting it, and my analysis of it, to think more carefully about ontology and epistemology. I was doing this, in part, because some of my Pacific Islander colleagues have been pushing me to think much more carefully and critically about the notions that I bring with me to my research, analysis, and writing that may foreclose deep and complex understandings of indigenous ontology and epistemic practices. The other part of my revisiting the story was to re think some of my early arguments about Gimi and the production of space and nature.
I wrote a short piece about this as part of a longer essay about the production of scale, space, and nature, all things that I learned about, initially, from Neil. He read the essay and it irritated him. Or at least, that is my reading of his response to me about it. He thought that in my essay I got scale “slightly wrong” and that the current so-called “ontological-turn” in anthropology is a kind of slight of hand that simply, among other wrongs, brings the fraught concept of “culture” back into the discipline. After reading my essay, Neil made me promise to read Hacking’s Historical Ontology and to re-read both Sallie Marston’s and his own early work on scale. And then we made a date to meet and have dinner at Red Rooster, a new hot-spot on a gentrifying Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, to discuss scale, our lives, and our (additional and on-going) disagreement about the nature of gentrification in Harlem.
I leave you with the story, without an end to the story of my and Neil’s conversation about it. Neil died before our dinner date.
One day a widow said to her two young children, a boy and a girl, ‘you stay here near the banana tree while I go to the forest to collect ferns. We have to have ferns for the beheda ada.’ (This is a death rite where the auna or soul of the deceased is coaxed away from the living and back to their clan’s sacred grounds) The mother told her children to stay near and that if they heard ripe bananas falling from the tree that would be a sign that she was dead. She told them to listen hard and then she went through the forest up to the garden that her husband had been clearing when he died. The garden was not fully cleared and the sticks he had been sharpening for fence posts were not fully sharpened.
The garden was on the bank of a river and she decided to go up the river to the head. So she went out of the garden and went up, noticing along the way that it seemed that her husband had gone that way before he died. She went up and up into the mountains. Along the way she caught frogs and collected ferns. She put the ferns and the frogs in her net string bag. All the way up she collected ferns and frogs, frogs and ferns. As she climbed higher and higher up the mountain, periodically she stopped because she thought she heard another person.
The mother came to a clearing and there was an old man sitting by a fire as if he was waiting on her. He had just split open a rotten tree and was sitting eating grubs. She asked him who he was and he answered with a question for her. He said ‘who are you and why are you here on my ground?’ She replied that she was gathering greens for herself and her children. He asked where her children were and she told him they were at home, but she did not tell him they were under the banana tree. He said that she could collect greens there or she could follow him and he would show her where there were more ferns and some yams for her to dig. She followed him higher and higher.
As they walked he asked her for the frogs in her net bag. She gave them to him and he ate them. He asked her for the frogs she put under her head covering (a covering she was wearing because she was in mourning). She gave them to him and he ate them. He asked her for the frogs she had hidden under her skirts. She gave them to him and he ate them.
They came to a place where there were yams and she began to dig. He watched her and then told her to bend over more. He told her that the yams were wild and that she had to stick her rear up more in the air to get the leverage to dig the wild yams. Then he went off to do other things. When she looked up again he was standing over her with a sharp stick. It was covered in blood and guts. The old man impaled her right then and there on his stick. He killed her and afterwards he put her skin on and he became her. He put her legs on like pants, and put her arms on like a shirt. After he put her on he put her clothes on and took up her net string bag. Then he went back down the mountain.
He went down and down and then came to her house. He called out to her children, ‘I am home with ferns and I’ve brought you a rat to eat.’ The old woman’s daughter ran out and said, ‘we were worried about you’ but she did not say anything about the banana tree. The man, disguised as their mother, said, ‘I am fine but I am thirsty from the walk up up up the mountain. You must go and get me water to drink. Water to quench my thirst.’ So the young girl left her still younger brother with the man who she thought was her mother. She walked to the river all the time still knowing that she had heard the bananas fall, but not knowing that her mother was dead.
While the young girl was gone to the river, the man killed the small boy. He killed him and put his body in the roof of the house. Then he returned to a fire he was building. When the girl came home with the water, the man was cooking the ferns that her mother had gathered. He told her that her brother was asleep in the net bag that he was carrying on his head, the net bag he had stolen from the dead mother.
The young girl sat down at the fire with the man and soon the man fell asleep. He slept and he slept while the girl worked on her net bag. As she worked she thought that she felt rain coming through the roof, but then she remembered it was not raining. She wiped the ‘water’ away that was dripping on her and she saw that it was blood falling from the roof of the house. She looked up and saw her brother. Immediately she knew that the person sleeping was Kore Bana and that he had led her mother high into the mountains, and killed her. She took her brother down and wrapped him in bark and put him in a net string bag. She called to the dog and then she burned down her father’s house. As she ran from the house she heard the old man screaming and screaming.
She then went to the forest with the dog and her dead brother. After a while in the forest she wanted to find a husband so she sent the dog to look for him. She told the dog that he should run to the ridge tops in the distance and look for her husband. She told him that if he found her husband he should come back and wag his tail to show her the way. She sent him off and soon he returned wagging his tail so she followed him to a garden house that was close by. In the house she found her true husband.
When she entered the house the man inside asked her why she was there. She did not answer with a question. She told him the story of her father and mother and brother. She stayed with him from then on. He gave her shell necklaces, sweet potatoes, Cassowary feathers, the pelts of marsupials that had been killed on his clan’s land, and pork. Then he was her husband.
After they were married they took the things from their wedding and they threw them in a tree. They also put the dead brother in the tree. Then the husband went hunting. He told the new wife that no matter what she heard she should not try and get into the tree. Then he went on his way.
The woman stayed in the house until she heard the tree singing. She went outside to see it and it sang and moved. She remembered her husbands warning so she did not climb in the tree, but she hit it with a great stick, one that was to become a fence post. When she hit the tree once nothing happened. When she hit the tree the second time nothing happened but then, when she hit it a third time, it burst open.
Out of the tree flew all of the birds of paradise! All of the birds! All of the birds came out at once. The Crested Bird of Paradise, Loria’s Bird of Paradise, the Magnificent Riflebird, the Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise, the Buff-tailed Sicklebill, the Black Sicklebill, the Brown Sicklebill, Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia, the Superb Bird of Paradise, Carola’s Parotia, Lawe’s Parotia, the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, the King Bird of Paradise, the Magnificent Bird of Paradise, the Blue Bird of Paradise, and the Raggiana Bird of Paradise. Some went to live near the He River. Some went to live near the Nimi River. Some went up high into the mountains. They went to the top of Bopoyana (Crater Mountain). Some went to the place where the salt water begins. They went all over the world.
[i] The time draws near, my dearest dear
When you and I must part
And no one knows the inner griefs
Of my poor aching heart
It’s what I suffer for your sake
The one I love most dear
I wish that I could go with you
Or you might tarry here
I wish my breast was made of glass
Wherein you might behold
Oh, there you’d find your name lies writ
In letters made of gold
Oh, there you’d find your name lies writ
Believe in what I say
You are the only one I love
Until my dying day
My dear old father’s hard to leave
My mother’s on my mind
But for your sake, I’d go with you
I’d leave them both behind
But for your sake, I’d go with you
Oh, Mother, fare thee well
For fear I’ll never see you no more
While here on earth we dwell
And when you’re in some foreign land
Think on your absent friend
And when the wind blows cold and clear
A line or two please send
And when the wind blows cold and clear
Please send it home to me
That I may know by your hand writ
How things have gone with thee
The blackest crow that ever flew
Will surely turn to white
If ever I prove false to you
Bright day will turn to night
Bright day will turn to night, my love
The elements will mourn
If ever I prove false to you
The seas will rage and burn
[ii] As a Ph.D. student my research became focused on how ‘sustainable development’, or what I came to term, “conservation-as-development,” had become an important vehicle by which the social and economic ideologies of capitalism were circulated globally. I approached this question through a study of how the various ideologies of nature and culture that come into a kind of dialectical contact during environmental conservation projects work to produce space as nature and how this dialectical pull between indigenous and other ways of seeing, being in, and production the world makes places, plants, and animals valuable and meaningful.
For many years after my Ph.D., which I earned in 2000, my work continued to be driven by four primary questions that I really bean to formulate in relation to my early conversations with Dorothy Hodgson, and my readings of Uneven Development and The New Urban Frontier: How do the political-economic processes termed neoliberalism interpenetrate global conservation and development policies and practices? How does the circulation of European notions of nature and culture work to displace or supplant other ways of understanding sociality and the environment? How do spaces taken-for-granted as ‘natural’ and practices taken-for-granted as ‘cultural’ come into being? And, How do people come to be in the world as subjects and agents in relation to their natural environments?
Today, nearly twenty years after I first read Uneven Development, my broad scholarly interest continues to be the relationship between nature and culture as that relationship connects to the production of space. More specifically, my scholarship has focused on the linkages between international development projects and socio-ecological change, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, and the role of international conservation efforts in the dispossession of indigenous peoples of rights to land, natural resources, and self representation.
[iii] GRUE n, f [crane] Etymol and hist 1. 1121-34 ornith.; 1544 ‘act like a crane’ [to stand waiting for a long time]; 1608 ‘to do the crane-foot’; 2a 1415 ‘grus’ [women of dubious habits]; 1858-66 ‘grue’; 2b 1466 [stupid person, easy to dupe]. Borrowed from vulgar latin ‘grua’ in sense 1; sense 2 comes from the prostitute waiting on one leg at the corner of the street, perhaps strengthened by the awkwardness of the bird.
BIRD n, f: bird – a female, sheila, usually an attractive young woman. Australia Dictionary.org.
BIRD \ noun, often attributive \ˈbərd\ 1 archaic : the young of a feathered vertebrate; 2 : any of a class (Aves) of warm-blooded vertebrates distinguished by having the body more or less completely covered with feathers and the forelimbs modified as wings; 3: a game bird; 4: clay pigeon 5 a : fellow, b : a peculiar person, c chiefly British : girl
CHICK noun \’chik\ 1 a: a domestic chicken; especially: one newly hatched – b: the young of any bird; 2: child; 3 slang: girl, woman