Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Summer

So aside from being super busy working at the animal hospital and preparing for the moving sale and for my graduation/ goodbye party I've also had time to do one of my favorite summer activities... read! When college was in session I never had the chance to read for fun because I always had a ridiculous number of reading assignments. Whenever I had a break the first thing I would do was pick up a good book. I love the late spring when it isn't too muggy out and there is a nice breeze so I can sit outside with a nice cold drink and a good read.

The first book I read was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It was a very good but extremely grim and depressing story set in a post-apocalyptic America.



Seriously, I probably should not be reading books like that because as an Environmental Studies major I'm already convinced that we, as a civilization, are totally screwed. I hate to admit it but the primary reason I decided against moving to California is because I don't think it's a safe place to be. In terms of elevation it seems unsafe because of the threat of sea level rise. Then there is the even more certain fact that California has been using more than its share of water from the Colorado River. Historically they have been able to get away with this because of the lower water demands of Arizona and Nevada, however, with populations both states increasing, California will not be able to continue with this pattern. Already the Colorado River often runs dry before reaching the Gulf. Water is not an unlimited resource. We just think it is because we turn on a tap and can get as much as we want. I'm completely convinced that the next world war will be over water.

Right now I'm reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose. It documents the journey of Lewis and Clark into the American West and is absolutely fascinating. When Tyler and I drive out to Montana we are going to actually be following some of the same route that they took. I'm still piecing the trip together, trying to make sure it's well-planned while still leaving room for spontaneity since it's supposed to be an adventure! I'm really excited to get the chance to take this trip! I hope we meet cool people along the way- that's one of my favorite things about traveling.

It seems like it's only right that I know something about the history of the land I will be inhabiting. I find fascinating the idea of so much having happened on the ground that I now walk on, and that others will walk on in the future. Sometimes when I'm hiking or walking somewhere I will wonder whose footsteps struck the very same ground; it's an intriguing thought!

I'm learning a lot from the book. Even if I do not agree with everything that Lewis and Clark did, and with my hindsight being 20/20 that comes up a lot, it is still fascinating to see what they went through. They were also the first "white" people to go as far West as they did, entering into Montana and Idaho and making it all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The descriptions of the land, ecology, and wildlife are very interesting as well because neither were highly trained scientists so although they were somewhat trained, a lot of their initial observations and accompanying assumptions are highly amusing.



It's also really sad though, to know what was to become of that land and its inhabitants, both human and not. They talk of seeing passenger pigeons, now extinct, migrating in flocks so dense that they block out the sun. Coyote and wolf populations were thriving and the Corps of Discovery, as they called themselves, obviously had no idea about the absolutely pivotal role that predators play within their ecosystems. Not to mention beavers, appearing around every turn, which are a keystone species (meaning the fate of many other organisms is directly tied to their presence because of the ecosystem functions that they provide- in this case creating dams, etc). I guess beavers were the number one victim of the fur trade at the time, and their tails were considered a delicacy (I still don't get that...). From the notes that Lewis makes in his journals, detailing the daily goings-on of his men, it is easy to see how those who followed in their footsteps would take advantage of the land. There is mention, time and again, about how there is literally "too much land" in the context that our biggest obstacle is figuring out how to use it up. That aspect of this history is so frustrating to me. I wish I could go back in time and somehow convey the importance of treating the land and all living creatures with respect and not taking them for granted.

It's incredible, as well, to think about how our lives would be different today if one little thing had gone differently on that voyage. There were so many close calls during their journey. What if just one of them had turned out differently? It's a thought with tremendous repercussions that I don't think anyone could fully grasp. I couldn't even say if we'd all necessarily be here. When you think of what this world has come to, if you take a look at the overall impact of mankind on this planet and at the legacy we'd be leaving behind if we suddenly vanished from this earth, I can't help but sound cynical. I mean, it really has been the rape of the world, as Tracy Chapman calls it. We have destroyed so much beauty. And for what? As a society we are as unhappy as ever. We destroy the natural world to make room so we can build things that will make us happy but those things don't end up making us happy at all. And we wonder why we feel a void at the end of the day, when we're sitting alone. We have everything so backwards! Those places that we are destroying are the very ones we should be preserving. If we ever want to be happy, or to have any kind of peace, we must learn to respect ourselves, each other, and the earth, including all of the life on it.

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