Another dog-eat-dog day in paradise


Late one evening last week after all the people had left Ministers Island, Sharon and I were strolling across the sweeping front lawn to Van Horne’s big house. “What is that?” Sharon said, looking down. She stooped and picked it up. It was a dismembered baby fawn leg. Its hoof was the tiniest I’d ever seen.

We carried it to the car and took it over to the farmer’s cottage. We chatted about it for a few minutes, and figured that it must have been done by the eagles who’d been making a fuss in the trees that afternoon.

Life is a competitive event and sometimes hard. On the drive off the island I thought about the local Haley boy’s tragic ATV accident and a friend’s son stopping to pick up the other boy just minutes after the crash. Most of us know that gut-wrenching, dislocated feeling of shock. But more often life’s shocks come more gradually, unseen. Like aging or disease.

This weekend we met with the farmer again. We sat on the front deck of the cottage looking at the ocean and talked about sustainable farming, raising goats and crops. Our talk went from mechanized farming to using horses. Any kind of farming is no easy way to survive he said. But by hand? The best a strong man and his family with a good team of horses might manage is about 5 acres of crops. He’d seen it. A tall, rangy Czechoslovakian and his wife moved into the farm next door to him and managed to eke out a living somehow. His wife, who was now 60 looks more like 70, he said, is worn right down.

Farming always leads me back to post-fossil fuel thinking, of course. I can’t help dialing up new information on the Internet. A new guy popped up, an ex-cop named Michael Ruppert. He doesn’t think the end of fossil fuel will be gradual at all. In fact, he wrote a book called Confronting Collapse, outlining survival strategies. There’s also documentary film on him, which is only partially flattering, but you can get the full idea from Ruppert himself in the videoclip below. In the end we’re left wondering whether he’s a wingnut or a visionary.

One not so nutty expert is Sir Nicholas Stern, who wrote a landmark report on the economic effects of climate change for the UK government a couple of years ago. He came up in conversation last week in another leisurely chat on another front deck, this time with a retired friend. He pulled out a climate change article from The New York Review of Books and handed it to me. It was Stern reviewing “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” by Bill McKibben. Initially Stern thinks McKibben’s views are too pessimistic, but later points out that, “These are not small probabilities of something nasty, these are large possibilities of something catastrophic.” Which sounds pretty dire to me.

Stern goes on to say, “To deny the urgency of strong action in the face of all the evidence is unscientific, irrational and dangerous.”

But changing human behaviour ain’t so easy, as I keep relearning. Clearly, climate change is directly linked to our massive consumption of fossil fuel, which from most reports is now on the decline side of the production curve. So how do we wean ourselves from an 80-million-barrel-a-day habit when the global population is currently skyrocketing to 7 billion? It’s beyond me. Really. When problems get this big, ordinary human beings seem powerless to change. It’s the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.

And a quick surf across the Internet suggests that there are a lot of doomsday folks out there, waiting for everything to collapse. I, for one, don’t find any appeal in living through a novelist’s post-apocalyptic nightmare like The Road. But maybe it’s not that bad.

On a whim I picked up a copy of Psychology Today. There was a small feature on ‘luck’ that caught my attention. Hey, we could all use some luck, what with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and whatever other bad news is out there.

So here are the five ways to increase your luck:

1. See serendipity everywhere
2. Prime for success through openness and flexibility
3. Slack off, let your mind wander
4. Say “yes.”
5. Embrace failure as a door for new opportunities.

Well, that’s nice. But I doubt it offers comfort to anyone who is truly depressed—psychologist Carl Jung comes to mind. At a low point in his life he decided to build a big stone tower by hand. It was a physical struggle as much as a rejection of the modern world and a return to a simpler of living.

Possibly a few of us might do something like that—if only we could afford the time to do it. But this mouse-wheeling business of making a living and spending at Wal-Mart keeps most us from doing more interesting things.

And maybe rightly so. Without the boilerplate of modern civilization, competing to survive in the wild wouldn’t be much fun at all. Here’s to hoping the world doesn’t get a lot tougher. We could still get lucky…

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