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Dave and Anke
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Civiliztion vs Wilderness: May the Best Win

Lisbon Bridge, commissioned by El Mundo/Expresso Magazine, Portugal

May you live in interesting times!

-- Ancient Chinese Curse

Civiliztion vs. Wilderness: May the Best Win

I guess timing is everything.

Big change is coming - more drastic and far-reaching than any in history, certainly... perhaps only rivaling ice age, meteor strike or 'volcanic winter' events in human prehistory. The coming generations will bear the brunt, whether to sink or swim. Fortunately, we're a resilient species. I, for one, wish us well.

My biggest concern is that we're not leaving much to those who come after. I'm only 53, as I write, but have seen huge losses of wilderness from my youth. Big timber is mostly gone, fish runs depleted, one watershed after another pole-axed by development... that same process that transformed the West Coast's I-5 corridor from incomparable paradise to running strip mall in a mere 150 years; only three times my span.

The same process grinding along just about everywhere. The great forests and oceans are dying. And it is we who are killing them. Every day brings us closer to a tipping point. Our very civilization -- in and of itself and business as usual -- is a rolling, Extinction Level Event.

But there is hope. Biotic systems repopulate exponentially. Civilization has wilderness in retreat, maybe even in rout. But wilderness springs back given half a chance.

I've been interested to check in on the humbling rebound of wilderness in area surrounding Chernobyl. Remove the pressures of human civilization for a handful of years, and the world thrives. We are of that world. It must be said, that that environment was highly 'remediated' at great, human cost.

I believe that our surviving children and theirs will thrive within this new wilderness once the traumas of  transition subside. Thrive as billions presently do not, subject, as they are, to the 'benefit' of civilization. Wilderness is the state for which we are evolved, and I believe that we shall return with a sigh of relief.
We are, in the company of hundreds of human civilizations before us, rushing toward collapse and ensuing Dark Ages. This time, our reach is global. The future looks dark to me.

For a while.

Hound Voice

BECAUSE we love bare hills and stunted trees
And were the last to choose the settled ground,
Its boredom of the desk or of the spade, because
So many years companioned by a hound,
Our voices carry; and though slumber-bound,
Some few half wake and half renew their choice,
Give tongue, proclaim their hidden name -- 'Hound Voice.'

The women that I picked spoke sweet and low
And yet gave tongue. 'Hound Voices' were they all.
We picked each other from afar and knew
What hour of terror comes to test the soul,
And in that terror's name obeyed the call,
And understood, what none have understood,
Those images that waken in the blood.

Some day we shall get up before the dawn
And find our ancient hounds before the door,
And wide awake know that the hunt is on;
Stumbling upon the blood-dark track once more,
Then stumbling to the kill beside the shore;
The cleaning out and bandaging of wounds,
And chants of victory amid the encircling hounds.

William Butler Yeats


  1. Recent Chernobyl update in a national mag, maybe Outside, as I recall. Apparently roving wolfpacks that have gotten aggressive. Quite a startling repopulation dynamic. Haven't had a chance to walk about one of the larger canneries abandoned in southeast Alaska yet but seeing the rainforest creep over the buildings must be inspiring and awesome to behold.

    1. Thanks, I'll try to find that.

      Latest in depth up-date I saw was in the History Channel show, LIFE AFTER PEOPLE.

      Rainforest 'creep' over abandoned sites is more like a 'pounce'! Many sites are hard to locate after 20 years.

      That being said, the surrounding damage to old growth IS easy to spot, if you know what to compare it to. One often sees one of the original snags (dead standing trees) TOWERING over young growth. To our deprived eyes, that young growth looks aboriginal, but is some 450 years to 2000 years from ecosystemic maturity.

      Not to mention that our old-growth matured in an environment in which enormous runs of salmon played an integral role in transport of nutrients and the creation of top-soils. With 'surplus salmon' being 'harvested' by commercial fleets, that biomass becomes unavailable to local ecosystems. Consequences unknown.

      Also, many of the sites are still seeping toxins, whose impact, while hard to pinpoint, is not inconsiderable.

      My biggest concern for the future is the proliferation of nuclear energy plants along major watersheds. Without continuous (uninterrupted), hi-tech maintenance each and every one becomes a horrific situation affecting huge swathes downstream and downwind.

      I haven't heard re Chernobyl populations, but plants and animals suffer increased incidence of cancer in some distinct proportion to exposure to LONG-lived radioactive particles (exact proportion debatable, but not that radiation exposure is a major killer). While populations may increase and even thrive, cancers are presumed to be taking a heavy toll on individuals.