Sunday, November 13, 2011

lucky to be water born

During the three hours this morning it took me to wake, drink coffee, eat breakfast, read the news, shower and get ready for a walk, humanity had extracted another 378 million barrels of crude oil, 56 million tons of coal, and 36 billion cubic feet of natural gas out of the planet’s steadily depleting reserves. I'll admit right up front the way I spent those three hours contributed to the depletion. Considering the way things are set up in the western world it's very difficult to know how to live in such a way as to not stress the environment. I hate going to big box stores or shopping malls but the fact is I've been engineered to negotiate those spaces whereas, being left to myself in the woods, I couldn't tell one mushroom from another and neither could I find my way out of a good sized park without a map and the help of a kind hearted park ranger. It's pitiful.

It was only a little more than a century ago people pretty much lived in harmony with nature's ability to resupply our natural resources; essentially, work was done by human labor in concert with animals when extra strength was required and power for grinding grain was done by water and wind mills. I wouldn't last a month in that world. Nevertheless, what did happen was the discovery of the planet's non-renewable resources and the serious mistake that was made was to treat them like they were infinite.

Even if I had the inclination I couldn't afford to buy land, tools, seeds, or any of the other multitude of things required to start a farm. If you're interested in the adventures of someone who actually did make a serious try at it please go over to Gfid's blog North of Sanity where she's been describing a time more than 30 years ago when Canada still had some free land on offer. Her experience provides a very entertaining story about what most of us city bred types could hardly imagine doing.

What I am good for is doing all the things we're able to do with the support of modern conveniences. I can cook, clean, read, write, drive, draw, and even ride a bicycle. What I can't do is figure out how to save the world for future generations to enjoy, but if anything is ever going to change for the better, I think alienation is a good place to start. There's a lot worth being alienated from. You don't have to be ashamed of feeling alienated by a world filled with evil, stupidity,  greed,  and injustice. We've all fallen into the world as it is but if our children's children are to be free,  maybe imagining a different world - a world in which we would feel at home - is a good place to start.

Keep smiling.


  1. Thoughtful and important post, Susan, something we often talk about at home. I often think of my grandparents in Finland who lived on a small farm, growing most of their own food and animals, bartering with neighbours for what they did not have, bringing up nine kids who all survived, and this during hard times for everyone. I know we are soft city folks compared to them, and I too would have a hard time managing that life. How very fast the world has changed indeed. Often half jokingly I say that when we run out of oil we'll go back to horse and buggy. Better invest in horses instead of oil stocks!

  2. Susan, In 1911 the world population was less than one billion people. The world population has now topped seven billion. That is a 700% increase. The more people the more drain on the environment.

    Over population is at the base of most of our problems - that and politicians.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. marja-leena - My grandparents did much the same in the north of England all those years ago. I remember my mother telling me about standing on a stool to knead fourteen pounds of bread dough when she was just seven. I have a hard enough with a bowl of cookie dough.

    I'd be pleased to invest in horses but I don't think there are enough working horses to be found any more.

    sean - Glad you enjoyed it and nice it is to see you.

    ol'buzzard - I know. I've seen the numbers too and fear the worst . The interesting thing is that it's never been so much about population as there's room enough but what we use. I agree though that mammas should be telling their children not to have babies. They probably won't listen.

  4. I doubt it counts I taught the great big Bella to pull me around the yard with her leash? yeah...thought not...

    isn't it sad all you have written is so true? I remember in my very young youth farming relatives and we were basically hippies growing, putting up and selling/bartering with other like-minded people...not so now! and I would again at the drop of a hat too!!

    I love your painting & really couldn't help noticing the difference between her and the one before do really make your point in this too...tender and sweet. I guess we could not give up on ideals but the facts make it impossible, no? sigh.....much love my dear xxoo

  5. Top shelf read Susan.

    Yearning for simpler times is understandable even though to do so is to exercise in futility. All I can do is to simplify what I can and rely as little as possible on the modern nuts and bolts of our 21st century culture.

  6. Oh sure, get our existential crisis all riled up, then tell us to keep smiling. You're a government plant with your freaky mind control, aren't you. I'm so mad, I'm gonna go for a walk.

  7. Maybe we need to get into the business of raising work horses and making buggies, then the investors will come!

    Lovely painting, Susan - I forgot to say! Glad to see you back with the brushes. What's wrong with spending time in a nicer alternate reality for a little while - isn't that what art is for?

  8. What I can't do is figure out how to save the world for future generations to enjoy, but if anything is ever going to change for the better, I think alienation is a good place to start. There's a lot worth being alienated from. You don't have to be ashamed of feeling alienated by a world filled with evil, stupidity, greed, and injustice. We've all fallen into the world as it is but if our children's children are to be free, maybe imagining a different world - a world in which we would feel at home - is a good place to start.

    I have often felt that the way we live with nature is very alienating. We are alienated from our natural environment as if the world of nature is an evil thing to be either endured and or conquered. And look where that has landed us! Good post :)

  9. linda - Of course training Bella (or her training you) counts. Did you know there's some evidence that humans and dogs developed socially in concert with each other. They really are our oldest friends.

    I'm glad you like the painting. It's actually a second version of one I spoiled by inking, thought about, and then re-did. It's nice to know it was worth the extra effort.

    mrmacrum - Nice to see you again. It seems to me our human landscape has changed to a greater extent than the physical one but it was cooperation in the first place that made us strong. There's no going back.

    randal - I hope you take some nice pictures of urban devastation while you're out there.

    marja-leena - That's actually a very cool idea and what a wonderful way it would be to spend time.

    I'm glad you like the painting. Not that I'm not at peace in general about whatever comes next but I'm definitely in a timeless place when I'm painting. I'm sure you feel much the same.

    liberality - What we seem to be is insulated from the natural environment but left without the benefits of a more harmonious relationship with it. One of my favorite movies that illustrates the change is Dersu Uzala directed by Kurosawa in 1975. If you haven't seen it already I'm sure you'd like it.

  10. But what if I don't want to smile? she whined while thrashing about.

    I'm regressing. From what, I don't know.

    xoxo (I love the painting. So does Sophie who is reading this over my shoulder and telling me how she has HER life planned out.)

  11. That's the unfortunate thing. What we can do on our own is limited.. together though.... if only there was the will. Still better to do some small things regardless of what others do

  12. Does a virtual smile count? :-)

  13. P.S. The painting is nothin' but fine.

  14. lisa - You might not want to smile but I know that's what comes naturally to you. Heh. I had my life planned out too but what's happened I was too young to imagine.

    jams - All we can do is what we can but it's good most of us here enjoy stepping out of our comfort zones once in a while.

    gina - Yes, it does :-)

  15. What a remarkably-written essay, Susan. You have a great gift for telling our Story honestly but without blame. Seeing reality through that type of lens is the only way we have the slightest chance of not ruining the planet completely.

    Interestingly, I see that marja-leena mentions her grandparents in Finland. Mine immigrated here as young adults. I love the story of how they survived the Great Depression living in Minnesota. Grandpa fished and Grandma simply made a large garden in the woods nearby the lake where he fished. It was not their property, but who was going to mind out there in the wilds? They kept themselves and their family going through that hard time. She also made her own soap, clothes, ...basically everything. I like to think that I have enough of her in me that I would be able to survive if need be. But probably not. It's not just about genes, it's about our own place in the timeline of development (using the word development loosely here).

  16. Oh, and the painting is wonderful and really touched my heart. I just attached my brain to your words and forgot to mention the art. :)

  17. lydia - Thank you for your very kind words about the essay and the little painting. It's always so nice to know when others share my feelings about forgiveness being at the heart of trying to make things right in the world - or at least, no worse. All I can see at this point is that we're all on the same fast moving train and running backwards through the cars doesn't help. We may as well sit with the other passengers and see what we can come up with after the thing stops.

    Yes, Marja-Leena is also Finnish and a very wonderful print artist who lives in Vancouver. I'm sure you'd like one another. Your grandparents certainly were hardy souls to manage what they did in Minnesota but of course we have to allow ourselves to realize that understandings about what had to be done were different then. People learned as children to plant a garden, fish, hunt, and all the other things required to life a decent life. We all know what kids are trained to do these days but we'd get some very weird looks if we insisted they learn how to survive in the woods rather than go to school and the mall. If the worst comes, we'll just have to see what happens next. Your timeline development phrase describes the situation well.