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Excerpt from Endgame

Get There First (p. 761)

From chapter "Get There First with the Most"

Get there first. I want to tell you a story. When I was a high jump coach, before every track meet I made my jumpers get to the stadium before anyone else. They were to be the first to put down their athletic bags near the approach. They were to be the first to tape their mark. For overnight trips sometimes I’d take them to the field the night before, as soon as we got into town. A couple of times we climbed fences to get to where the high jump competition would be held. Even for away meets—especially for away meets—I wanted them to claim the high jump pit. It was now theirs, and it was up to other jumpers to take it away from them.

I think we now need to do a similar thing. We need to claim the land where we live. We need to fall into it, to treat it as though it’s ours—as in a family we love and protect, not as in something we have the right to trash—and we need to defend it. If someone is going to destroy our landbase, they’ll have to come through us to do it, because we were here first. We have the higher claim, and we will defend that claim.

It’s no wonder we don’t defend the land where we live. We don’t live here. We live in television programs and movies and books and with celebrities and in heaven and by rules and laws and abstractions created by people far away and we live anywhere and everywhere except in our particular bodies on this particular land at this particular moment in these particular circumstances. We don’t even know where we live. Before we can do anything, we have to get here first.

Finding out everything you can about the people whose land you live on and allying yourself with its rightful owners is vital, but there’s something even deeper. Whose land is it? Yes, it’s Tolowa land, or Apache, or Seneca, or Choctaw, or Seminole land. But even before them, whose land is it? The land belongs to the salmon, to the redwoods, the Del Norte salamanders, the red-legged frogs, the pileated woodpeckers, the marbled murrelets, the spotted owls. The spiders, solitary bees, and huckleberries. They are the land. They define it. They in all physical truth make it what it is. Get to know them. Ally yourself with them. They were here first. They—or their local equivalent—know the land where you live far better than you do. After all, they live there. And when civilization comes down, there will be much you need to learn. There will be much they can teach you, if you are willing to learn, and if they are still alive.

The way things are going, they won’t be. For the truth is that right now, no matter how completely we may understand that the land we live on belongs to the indigenous, and no matter how completely we may understand that the land we live on belongs to those nonhumans who have lived here forever, civilization and the civilized have overrun nearly all of the planet, with plans to overrun the rest. Civilization and the civilized hold nearly all of the ground. They have, so far as we are concerned, gotten there first. If we are to recover this ground, we must force them to quit it. I am not speaking metaphorically.

One of the things I’ve always hated about being an environmental activist is that nearly all of our work is defensive, as we try to stop this or that area from being destroyed. That’s necessary work, of course, but it’s not enough. We need to begin to beat back the civilized, to reclaim land to let it recover. In addition to the purely defensive work of stopping new roads from being busted into native forests, we need to rip out roads that are already there, whether or not we have the permission of those in power. We need to take out dams. We need to turn croplands back into forest, marsh, and meadow.

The good news is that this is all pretty easy. It takes an extraordinary amount of work and energy to impede succession, and for many places all we need to do is force the civilized off the ground they’ve stolen and the landscape will do the rest. Bust a dam, and the river will take care of itself. Take out a parking lot, and it won’t be long till paradise comes back home.

The bad news is that we live in occupied territory, and those in power will try to maintain that occupation to the very bitter end. This is another sense in which getting there first is critical to bringing down civilization. Since those who are exploiting and killing your landbase will not without a fight relinquish their perceived entitlement to exploit and destroy, any threat to their perceived entitlement is fraught with danger. If they catch you. So do not let them. How do you not let them? By getting there first. Know what you are doing, and know where you are doing it. Practice, like the former Marine told me at the baseball game, until you can perform your tasks in your sleep. Know the terrain. Have escape routes. Plan for contingencies. Plan for more contingencies. Plan for even more.

Get there first. Just as I do when I write, prepare for every possible response to your actions. The state will respond. You need to get to each response first and close off that avenue of attack. The state, for example, uses informants. So don’t tell anyone what you’re going to do, or what you’ve done. I mean anyone, including your new girlfriend who happens to be the daughter of the deputy sheriff, including your old friend whose new girlfriend happens to be good friends with someone whose mother goes to church with someone whose cousin believes that while dams need to come down some of those environmentalists just go too far and need to be turned over to the police before they hurt someone. I mean anyone. Emails are traceable. Don’t send emails, especially traceable ones. Forensics labs can pick up shoeprints. Cover your shoes, and then throw away your shoes and covers. Burn them. Burn all evidence, and then make the ashes disappear. Anticipate every response. No matter what you do, get there first.