VA now in review/recess mode– recalling Recessional

Since the March 6th direct protest action (site occupation) by a group named Crown Hill Woods Protectors, the Veterans Administration has been studying several alternative sites for its planned memorial cemetery in Indianapolis. This is a very positive turn of events and the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors and many other community groups are very hopeful that an accord can be reached which would save and permanently protect the forest ecosystem and also provide a suitable location for the planned columbarium.

I’ve always liked Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem Recessional and it seems appropriate for several reasons to recall it now– along with following commentary provided by Paul and Anne Ehrlich from their 2004 book One With Nineveh— Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future.   

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling, 1897

“God of our fathers, known of old—

Lord of our far-flung battle line—

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!


The tumult and the shouting dies—

The captains and the kings depart—

Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart,

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!


Far call’d our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!”


“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1897 poem that refers to Nineveh’s fall, is a cautionary tale about pride and arrogance, itself written during the high tide of the British Empire.  Early civilizations, not just in Mesopotamia and Egypt but also elsewhere in the Middle East, Mesoamerica, and East Asia, were notoriously hierarchal, ruled over by people with enormous presumption.  This is attested by the abundant remains of pyramids and palaces created by the labor of thousands for the use of a tiny elite….

“The Greek word hubris best describes the kind of overweening pride, arrogance, and presumption memorialized in those Assyrian royal annals and the extensive bas-reliefs of Nineveh.  Of course, displays of hubris are not confined to ancient times, or to the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates, or even to the glory days of the British Empire.  …

“Hubris-based misuse of power, in our view, is a major reason why increased overpopulation and runaway consumption—driving forces in environmental deterioration—are not being adequately assessed or addressed….

“We think that all these assumptions show a lack of contact with reality. Collective hubris reinforces the desires of many of the most powerful segments of civilization, and it helps create collective denial.  It prevents people from seeing what society’s environmental choices mean for our children and grandchildren….

“Dealing with population, consumption, and power will not be easy.  But each day that we do nothing forecloses options for creating a better future, for avoiding Nineveh-like ecological suicide in our time.”

Source:  One with Nineveh— Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future,  Ehrlich, Paul and Anne, 2004




Read! Read!


A recent Facebook post by the Protectors of Crown Hill Woods supplied a video of a classic 1970 episode of Mayberry RFD (titled The Mayberry Road) which was spot-on in so many ways both obvious and subtle.  It featured a battle between the Mayberry Garden Club and the County Commission road-builders who planned a destructive short-cut designed to save time in the drive to Mount Pilot.  It’s a must see:

In making her woods preservation case, Aunt Bea points out to the Garden Club “this latest step in the desecration of our woodland areas” and she later makes an appeal to Sam Jones, the president of the Town Council.

After he balked, she incredulously asks “Sam, don’t you read?  Don’t you know there’s a battle raging on behalf of conservation – saving our natural resources?”  Scholarly Howard, the Town Clerk/Postmaster, then pitches in with a reference to supportive information he had recently read.

Of course, having read nothing about conservation issues, Sam is clueless about the case for preserving natural heritage and instead argues that progress reasonably requires the loss of a few trees.  Eventually however Aunt Bea prevails, after some civil disobedient direst action, and the planned road is re-aligned by the County to avoid destroying the woods—the classic “win-win” for each side.

I thought Aunt Bea’s remark about the importance of reading the current literature on conservation issues, although a subtle remark, was one of the important messages of the story and one of the main reasons that there is so much ignorance by public officials and the general public about the importance of preserving our natural heritage.  We are so fortunate, especially during the past couple of decades, to have such a great wealth of brilliant literature of place by such a wide variety of great writers and experts.  But are their works widely read?  Unfortunately, not enough!

I first became interested in environmental and place literature in the late 1980s after reading a book of essays (Where We Live—Essays about Indiana) published in 1989 by The Indiana Humanities Council (now Indiana Humanities).  Since then, the range of available titles about global environmental protection and good place-making have greatly expanded.  We can only hope that these books are being read by both conservation advocates and public officials who have the power and authority to act.

When my daughter was about 3 years old, she perched on my lap one evening as I read children’s stories to her.  After some time, I started to drift off to sleep whereupon she forcefully grabbed me with two fists by the shirt front at demanded that I “Read! Read!”.   It’s universal good advice—whether we’re reading bedtime stories or prescriptions on how to save our planet.