I’m sorry, Henry. I tried.
We all tried. Well, some of us. Make that a whole hell lot of us didn’t try—the Industrial Revolution and the Single-Use/Plastic-Styrofoam Throwaway Revolution have devastated the oceans and rolling plains beyond remedy and there’s nothing I can do. We traded in simple living so the railroads, factories, and satellites could ride us. As a world, we gave up family farming for having cell phones so we could watch television on the toilet. Seriously.
I reduce as much as I can. I really do. Ask any of my family members, friends, or students, they’ll all tell you the same: I’m some sort of a part-time fool for Nature conservancy.
But I can’t do it anymore. I’m a city boy. I’m writing on a computer made of plastic and wires and conflict minerals (with nine tabs and five applications open), and I realize you have no idea what I’m talking about, since you’re still existing in a pre-Civil War era America—but essentially at some point in the last century, the whole world became addicted to convenience and easy use, and we couldn’t get enough of all the polymers and minerals we took from the Earth (the upside is that our Health Industry today could have saved you from Tuberculosis with a plastic syringe and the right vaccine). We use those metals and materials to make accelerated computing devices, food trays, and, well, everything, but only using them for a few seasons because we build things to eventually break so that we can sell you a slightly better version. It’s all planned.
Then we throw them away, where they end up in what’s called a landfill, which is a big field of garbage covered with grass.
And cars too (large, mechanical carriages that go up to 120 miles-per-hour and run on gas and oil, which are mined from the Earth)—and buildings, and cows, and, well—there’s nothing I can do, Henry. We’ve invented ourselves into oblivion—all too confidently, and although creating these things aligns nicely with your assertion to build foundations under our dreams, we’ve dreamt ourselves into a world full of waste.
The woods are burning, or far from pristine. And we’re not going there deliberately anymore because we have theme parks and inside-superstores. But if I took you to Costco, you’d either flip your lid or fall in love. I know, I had the same reaction.
Convenience won. We are the ants and pygmies and cranes, fighting the creations we have made which will, if we breathe in, drink, and live among the waste they create, destroy us.
But you knew that.
I’ve done a shitty job at simplifying. We all have—unless you consider a huge agriculture-corporation trademarking the seeds, food, and pesticides, and that same company putting the real farmers out of a job. That is simplicity!
My life—most peoples’ lives now—is more complicated than any one of the patchwork Transcendentalist or Universalist philosophies. My DVR alone would shame me in a conversation with you, Henry. Seriously, if I were to explain all the time I spend watching televised theater, and how important it is to my life and the life of my wife and children, I wouldn’t be worth the paper stock they wrote my Master of Arts in English on.
And the Earth. The poor, wretched Earth.
In the years since you lived at Walden Pond (where I bring my students every year to ditch their computing devices and meditate and just get lost in the woods if they can ignore the railroad, highway, constricts of time, and other people), we’ve taken everything useful out of the Earth and used it up once and thrown it away again. We’ve polluted every sea and oceanic gyre between the seas, and we’ve raised the temperature of Earth just by emitting smog on the way to work.
Maybe it’s better you’re not here to scold me. But if you were, we could leave it all behind for the day, bake some bread, skinny dip in Walden Pond, and watch some ants fight on a hill. You could teach me how to identify plants and grow beans. And then we could debate on the front porch before I introduce you to television.
I have some amazing Nature documentaries to show you.
Photo: angela n./Flickr