Why Me?

An excerpt from Shemitta: For the Land Is Mine, by Mark Edward Vande Pol

So, who the heck am I to reinterpret the Holy Scriptures and what makes me think I am qualified as some sort of environmental “expert”?

Well, you are right to ask that question. It is pretty humbling that, after 3,500 years, a key component of ancient Hebrew Scriptures should come to light through someone like me. So as to my academic qualifications for writing a book on the Bible, let there be no doubt I have absolutely zero credentials with which to embark upon such a project.

Writing this book was like slowly realizing I had been on a roller coaster for forty years: a wild ride seemingly on the brink, unaware that the whole time I was firmly stuck to the rails. It is more than a bit odd that such a strange path was really necessary. But, aside from the obvious deficits listed above, I have had a unique experience in life, that could be construed into unusual qualifications.

I was born a fourth-generation Californian into one of the most beautiful places and times in human history, the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1950s. It was a time when outstanding artifacts of the natural world were but hours away with access upon a whim. Wonderful produce came from the Santa Clara Valley. Electricity was virtually free. The drinking water was delightful. To a child free to “go outside and play” whenever I wanted, it seemed only natural.

Within this brief lifetime, California’s population has tripled. Some got rich selling bits and pieces to those who would join us. Most folks felt there was something perverse about farmland this productive, this valuable, being destroyed to accommodate others who rightly desired to appreciate it. We all loved the wine, the computers, the California Nouvelle, and the occasionally high-speed freeway (heck, I became an R&D engineer), but we also knew that something terribly important was disappearing between our fingers. I have no doubt that those who lived here before me felt much the same way.

I have lived in dense cities, suburban grassland, rural forest, riverine, and a salt-water estuary (on a boat) for at least 9 years, each. I was an avid mountaineer for at least that long. So I am somewhat familiar with each of these habitats and how they have changed over my brief 5+ decades.

I was always an intense kid, but showed no special promise as a child until I was nine years old. I’d been ejected from my divorced mother’s home upon my distaste for my new “father to be” to live with my dad. Being separated from mom had nearly destroyed me, not that we’d ever had a special bond, but that it was all so wrenching and obviously my fault. Dad put me into a swank Catholic school in San Francisco where I met the finest human being I’ve ever met in my life, Mother Barbara Mitchell RSC, who understood that the only thing that was going to save me was work. She took me from an average 4th grade academic level to a high school reading level in one year, and had me convinced that somehow, I was going to make the world a better place. After study hall, I’d spend my afternoons at the Jewish Community Center, meeting some of the warmest people I’d ever encountered. There, I played with wealthy Jewish kids from Towne Hall School, and went to an Episcopalian Church on Sunday (see “Scates”). In retrospect, I cannot imagine a more appropriate spiritual upbringing for what you see here, but at the time it looked pretty chaotic.

I entered adolescence at a San Francisco prep-school in the full flower of 1968. My dad was haplessly ensnared in a custody battle over my brother that ended up as nine years of fruitless legal fees. In the process of his brief second marriage, I made a decision that brutal schoolwork would bring nothing but misery. I wanted out. So like most kids my age, “out” took the form of various hallucinogenic drugs, weird clothes, long hair, John Lennon glasses, and hitch-hiking to Point Reyes National Seashore and Yosemite National Park, my only desire was to disappear backpacking for weeks on end. “Nature” as I understood it then, was my solace. Yet even then, I began to understand that “protected” lands were not in exactly “pristine condition,” whatever that really means. I began to distrust the Sierra Club and an agenda that seemed opposed to doing anything to fix it. Reality was slowly winning over ideology.

Poverty has a way of doing the same thing, and what do you know but that nobody wanted to pay me for few skills and a bad attitude! I ended up homeless, wandering between the hills of Oakland and Lafayette, CA, finally getting a job restoring an old Chinese junk (sailboat) in a derelict marina on the Oakland waterfront. There I met the freest, most forthright people I’ve met anywhere. There were longshoremen, a borderline bum from Texas who’d spout Locke and Rand, blue-collar technicians and mechanics, fugitive bureaucrats, intractable drunks, a hard-hat diver, scam artists, various maritime drifters, businessmen with recalcitrant wives on “that damned boat”… and me, a skinny hippy kid the sailors called, “Cute-Buns.” Gradually, and with my dad’s minor assistance, I worked my way through the junior college system and back into a high-level engineering school in Southern California who shall remain nameless to protect their sterling reputation. There, I studied engineering, economics, and Constitutional philosophy.

The changes I saw upon returning from college were especially shocking. Santa Clara Valley (by then, “Silicon Valley”) was growing rapidly and real estate prices with it. I was developing products and the process machinery to make them. I earned international patents, developed a validated design-control system, obtained environmental permits in multiple international jurisdictions, managed construction projects, and implemented production. It was a heady experience, but emotionally and physically draining. I needed a break.

Just after the 1989 earthquake, my bride said she wanted a house. I refused to pay that much for an aging tract home, and she “agreed” to let me build one from scratch. So we went looking for acreage in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. There we learned about weeds, which can transform native habitat into an unrecognizable mess in only a few years. Complex arrays of shrubs, forbs, and grasses were successively buried under dense patches of usually harmful monocultures. Given my childhood connection with the land, it was so distressing to me to see the land that way I resolved to “save” a piece of it in the process of building the house. I thought it would be just a matter of a few years’ hard work and all would “heal.”

Together, my wife and I converted what had once been an abandoned apple orchard and had then overgrown for seventy years, into what local botanists contend is perhaps the purest collection of native plants on the Central Coast of California, now with 215 native species on 14 acres, with another 110 exotics almost entirely under control. I am told there is no park, preserve, or “pristine area” that is not infested with exotic plants by comparison. This has been an expensive and unrelenting effort, with intellectual challenges I could never have anticipated, requiring several technical disciplines totally alien to me. It remains a physical challenge, whether pruning damaged trees in a decadent forest, weeding nearly vertical rock walls without adequate gear, or trying to separate thread-like clovers from tiny grasses for days on end. It is a process of scientific discovery, like doing archaeology on a moving target, for nobody really knows how these systems were once composed much less how they worked over time. It is an art project, where you get to experiment with the medium while at the whim of the Master. It is an enormous amount of work. As the weeds spread around us over the long run, it may someday become impossible. Who knows how long my body will hold out? It does take its toll.

To my dismay, the largest contributor to our weed problem is our County government, principally under the direction of the Sierra Club (to which my parents and I had all been members). To “do something about it” and convince these activists of their mistaken judgment, I participated in the Santa Cruz County Local Agenda 21 Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management Roundtable in 1994, part of the first such United Nations program in the United States. At the time I joined, I honestly supposed the UN might help do something to stop the stupidity. Unfortunately, the Agenda 21 process, presented to the public as an open “consensus” of “stakeholders,” was a total fraud. The debate had never been completed, we never even met all of the “stakeholders,” and the resulting policy document I had submitted for the group was rewritten in secret. It was presented to the public as a consensus with my name on it when I had refused to sign it. Instead of a way to help landowners do a better job of caring for their property, I saw its consequences as a policy dedicated to having no one on the land. To me, the real results would be fuel accumulation, catastrophic fires, erosion, unrestrained infestation, impoverished soil, loss of wildlife, accelerated extinctions, and general poverty of the land and its people.

As bad as that was, it was the unethical conduct of such governance that concerned me much more. In response, I completed my projects and quit my engineering career three years later to spend four years researching, writing, and finally publishing Natural Process: That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Nature. This book was nearly 500 pages of hard data and dense theoretical exposition. It exposed the bureaucratic regulatory system as a criminal racket in the hands of major corporate stockholders using tax-exempt foundations to launder influence money. It explained why the system works the way it does, and documented its web of social, economic, and scientific flaws. It then proposed free-market alternatives, how they might work, and how to get them implemented. Upon that premise I have recently obtained a business method patent (a process that took over seven years). Although the book was endorsed by a few academics and technical heavies and was delivered to the White House by a former Senator, being self-published just weeks before 9-11, it did not get much attention. I was nearly broke.

Since that time I have written a number of articles on environmental policy and the steady perversion of the United States Constitution, having studied the founding documents and philosophy underlying its construction and adoption while at Harvey Mudd College. The modern phase of that history is infused with political corruption: corporate socialist “investors” looking to game the system for an augmented return. In modern times, their usual means has been manipulating markets with rules and regulations to control access to resources, augment returns, or restrict the market to particular materials or technologies. As research progressed, the theosophical affiliations of that elite became clear.

Understanding the disastrous ecological consequences and massive scope of the United Nations’ plan, I felt morally complicit, having supported socialized resource management for many years. I was thus forced to confront the beliefs underlying the theosophical “new age” environmental movement and felt compelled to take my family “the other way.” So, we pulled the kids out of school (to get a real education) and, for the first time in forty years, I opened up a Bible (yup, that is what it took; some of us “scientific” types are that dense).

In it, we read Leviticus 26, where the Lord’s punishments read almost exactly like the consequences I had foreseen in the UN Agenda 21. While the recognition was mind-blowing; at the time (2002) I did not note the antidote in the preceding chapter. It was just too obscure for me to see the connection.

Three years later, we joined a Messianic Jewish congregation as a Christian Gentile family. I indulged my interest in Leviticus 26 by reading the blessings in Hebrew. It was thence that the principles underlying Leviticus 25, founded in our intimate connection with productive wildlands, have become abundantly clear. They are indeed the difference between freedom and slavery, as important today as they were 3,000 years ago.

I take a minor role in our congregation, caring for our crumbling facility as best I can. Our kids are very helpful but we have little interest in a leadership position, although I do present an occasional midrash (roughly equivalent to a sermon). Really, I do not aspire to be a “religious figure” of any kind although I do love debating such things, but I would rather tinker with native habitat and invent processes and tools to do better restoration work more efficiently and at lower risk.

If you want to know more about what I believe so that you can make heads or tails of where this is all coming from or want to know more about my politics, besides the articles on the Natural Process site, there is a wide-ranging interview at Sunni Maravillosa’s web site.

As to “end times” beliefs, I regard it as my responsibility to do everything within my capability to help forestall whatever “new age” or “phoenix bird” fantasy various crazed power freaks apparently seek to perpetrate. I see it as only sensible to prepare my family to survive a disaster anyway, whether natural or man-made. I view natural disaster as an eventual certainty and man-made flavor as entirely avoidable but (given the financial power of those behind it) of reasonable likelihood (this was written before the meltdown - M). In either case, I take my cue from Leviticus 25 that G_d says we should prepare for it and have the courage to speak up when we see something wrong. So we do, and we try our best to keep it simple. As to an “end times” theology, I guess one might say that I hold a modified pre-millennial view. From what I can tell, under the best of circumstances it may take a thousand years of hard work to fix this mess.

So there you have it, as real as I know how to make it. It certainly will be interesting and rewarding to learn under the guidance of the Creator. May He be pleased to walk on the land with which we have been so blessed, Amein.

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