No newspaper or book to read. Only pen, paper, eyes and ears, and my thoughts.
Thinking about Earth — it was mostly natural 78 years ago when I was born. It is mostly artificial — “man-modified” now.
That was 1940 WW 2 — and it can be counted as one of the turning points on man’s road to misguided dominance of nature. In ancient millennia it was the hunter-gatherer society, the longest era of all by far. The invention of slash-and burn came along to replace it; then lordships and tribal groupings, then kingdoms, promoting agriculture and the animal husbandry… all these steps had come along. There was no more live-and-let-live in respect of nature. Mercantilism and empires. The “invention of invention” then — it would have been unheard of in the New Guinea tribes I got to know — and at the same time, the industrial revolution; sanitation systems; chlorination of water; the first world war with millions of soldiers facing millions of soldiers, both sides sloshing around in mud and disease, using chlorine in another fashion altogether — and WW 2, a technologically advanced war, won conclusively by one side on all the fronts — land, sea and air — all three of them ravaged and polluted in the process, the latter most notably with radiation.
And the final assaults, the invention of “management” — wealthy interests could make money without getting their hands dirty, hiring lawyers, accountants and managers — and the development of “mass wealth”. Let me call it mass society. This at a time when money was shared out fairly equitably, if not by policy at least in fact. Here’s a personal example. In the mid 1970s we flew to St. Lucia, my little family and I. We had enough money to do so, both with higher education, better jobs and good habits of saving. Within two years all the clerical and support staff around me were taking the same types of tours and cruises! Average pay in the developed world was rising while mass travel, mass entertainment was getting cheaper per head. Bring on more heads, for profit!
But the earth, in the process of all these revolutions, except during the gentle hunter-gatherer period (see the fine film The Gods Must Be Crazy) was being scorched, excavated, levelled, felled, flattened and bevelled to our short-term, artificial satisfaction. Forests ploughed under, all the denizens thereof made homeless.
I just read a book — a fine book — that chronicled 50 Americans who returned after the second world war. Their stories are inspiring — the way they fitted in and “made something of themselves” — but not one of the people chronicled in the book worked or studied the natural sciences, or worked to study and preserve our natural surroundings. No, they became doctors, nurses, insurance managers, salesmen/women, journalists and publishers, entrepreneurs, technicians, ministers, teachers, banking and insurance managers and operators, entrepreneurs, labor organisers, lawyers, accountants, politicians, sports administrators, pilots and airline administrators, or they stayed in the armed forces.
We enjoyed a brief period of eco-consciousness in the 1970s. I recall a time when Environmental Science became a popular discipline for study — but my friends who pursued it were not able to find employment in their chosen field. The widespread, sincere interest in the future of the earth almost died. Along came the “Me” generation and it’s with us still. It is worse than ever due to the current reign of a child-king in America — accepted by the majority it seems. For the moment at least. Let us pray Americans will re-join the free, liberal democracies, respectful of minorities and of minority opinions. Let us pray for all of us and for our one and only planet, held hostage now to greed, avarice and self-aggrandisement.
I was born into a world of 3 billion or so and now there are 7 billion of us — jostling, pulling, pushing, starving in squalor in some countries, burying our heads in hand-held screens in others.
There’s a bit of native forest on the small island where I live — but it’s shrinking fast. To keep 2000 people happy someone thinks it’s a good decision to build an international sports field (flying in teams at government expense) and an Olympic-size pool. Someone is complaining that America has a few pools twice that size. Well, go to America! Or stay: we’re surrounded by the warm Caribbean Sea where we have an annual sea swim. Shouldn’t that suffice? Or should an aspiring athlete move to a place with bigger facilities? `(What me? Move?)
We need to step back. Man The Destroyer needs to step back.
WE NEED TO RE-GREEN
In the deserts In the forests
On the plains and On the steppes
In the rich bottom land
In the places previously wet That can be undrained
In the oceans In the shallows
In the lakes
On mountain tops In valleys
On the rivers and The riverine areas
Of the Earth
In the ruined places Places we call plazas
Shantytowns High rise cities
Squatter’s settlements, gilded palaces
May nature return From the ruins we’ve made
And the native vegetation Spring forth again
In the deltas In the harbours
All, all Over the land
No matter where you live the forest around you is shrinking fast. (Or your jungle; your glacier, if you live there; your the lake). Run, do not walk, and taste the beauty of nature while it yet survives! Have you been able to get into THE REAL FOREST or jungle during your life? Have I been able to do so in my 78 years? (I was born in 1940.) YES, and these were impressive occasions. Some of the most wonderful times of my life! Equal in wonder and delight to every other experience — religious, sexual, gustatory, competitive, mathematical, problem-solving, racing, resting, dancing, the great pleasure of friendship, of holding a baby, of winning a race. Believe me! Climbing a mountain alone and sitting at the top, in that wild silence broken only by the far-away raven’s call, his temple-bell call. “This is as good as it gets” but that’s a cliche. Spoken often by people who’ve never been there. Do not lose this idea please, the reward of the natural experience. Remember this good thing while I minimise the appeal of theme parks, shopping malls, television, internet, churches, schools, cruises, races and rallies …. Libraries I’ll leave off the list because a person can achieve a certain beatitude in a library. Now let me return, with an apology for “me, me, me” as I share a few good times.
Camping with my parents near Mount Baldy in Nova Scotia. Almost getting lost as I explored forests so much fuller and bigger than any on my intensely farmed island home not far away. (Though I had camped richly there, by red cliffs over rocky shores and the sea.) Hiking a place called “Split” in that same, bigger province. On top of Gros Morne in Newfoundland. Sailing Iceberg Alley and even the Hamilton River, up the coast. Canoeing with my own tiny family in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Walking 40 miles of railway track north of Canada’s biggest city, and discovering a 10 mile straight stretch through a vast swamp! Hiking Lake O’Hara and environs, for weeks at a time, from the base of an isolated, grandfathered lodge in National Park — Canada’s shining glory, its great, natural, forested National Parks where people are warned to avoid bears because the last thing we would ever want to do would be to have to shoot one.
Three days and nights alone in a high national park, one of the highlights of my life — described in my book so I won’t bore you here. Another three days, this time with John: hiking in to climb Mt. Jellicoe, climbing it, then breaking camp (a large phrase for my small pup tent) to hike out.
A short, growling, awe-inspiring foray into the maw of Beatty Glacier.
Jamaica — to the top of Blue Mountain Peak. Papua New Guinea — to the top of Mt. Wilhelm (trudging through what I can call tree fern alley). Mt. Mission in PNG again, to sleep in the same pup tent near Mote’s lean-to.
But in all, only a very short time, right? Only a few hundred days spent in deep forest or jungle (or dry river bed or on the water) out of my whole life, — not much out of my 28,270 days on earth so far! But the impact was overwhelming, and is with me still.
The best thing you can give your youngster is a pup tent, a Bowie knife in a sheath, and the skills to use them. The best thing you can fight for is the preservation of all our wild places, and the restoration of our previously wild places. If nothing else presents itself you can fight to retain a small, wild urban park! Working on one now – it will be “Stake Bay Town’s Buttonwood Forest. (Urban Swamp but we need to upgrade that name again, and anyway the buttonwood trees are as big and dominant as anything in a forest).
Can We Restore Our Earthly Home?
(Is there any other? We must assume no for heuristic reasons)
Very few fish in the sea
Very few birds in the sky
Bees killed off by nicotine
Smothering gases on high
Putrid fumes at eye level too
Acidic oceans and rain
Sky scraping jungles, urban glass bungles
Roads with sixteen and more lanes
Millions are huddled in camps
While dictators shoot off their rockets
Parks given over to mining and drilling
As plutocrats fill up their pockets
Rivers now roar through our glaciers
Humungous slabs calving off
Europe is weak but it’s all that we have
When Etats-Unis is to laugh
For the pathway is known but not easy
If earth’s to survive as our home
Political will’s more elusive
The philosopher kings are all gone
— wait: all is not lost —
We still have a few who know what to do
And who signed the Accord in Paree
We’ll leave the devil to take the hindmost
While we hie ourselves off to plant trees
Using less is the key to salvation
A bike is more fun than a car
Cutting energy use, having just one papoose
Planting trees — these steps take us far
We’ll camp on the edge of the desert
In a thousand tent towns near the trees
The full moon in June will illume us
As we toil in the Afric night breeze
Together with friends from all nations
And religions and some none at all
Our government strong so we cannot do wrong
We elect true defenders of law
Living lightly with great ingenuity
We’ll gather our water from air
And ride our bikes with ourselves as the engines
To treat Mother Earth with great care
The hedge funds can now pay our wages
Ten dollars a day and our fare
Food and health, libraries and schools
And your cooler just twelve inches square
Poetry, music, art and invention
Skills like mathematics we’ll bring them to bear
To live on the hunter-gatherers’ scale
Teaching and learning and learning to share
Work parties followed by parties
We’re assisting the globe to re-green
We’ll restore it to health and to moderate wealth
Elysian Fields are our dream
Restore earth to health and few pennies’ wealth
Elysian Fields are our dream
jwp Cayman Brac Cayman Isands May 26, 2018