The Wreckage We Leave: A memorial for that which is no more

The hawk floats in over the valley with eyes sharply focused for any movement. It’s a ritual performed more out of habit than hoped-for consequence, above this once-teeming feeding ground that is no longer. How does the raptor fathom a clear-cut and soil-stripped landscape? The accipiter’s ancestors have hunted this very ridge and creek for tens of millions of years, but it is now forced to move on by an interloper on a bulldozer. With wings thus clipped, it spirals out of sight and into the past.

Who gave us the right?

Where there were turtles, snakes, foxes, opossums, raccoons; nests with birds of every manner, from titmice to owls; groundhogs, deer, skunks, even kids who waded and swam in the water — they are gone now. Where there was topsoil, rich with earthworms and nutrients, and assorted species of insect and mammalian life — they are gone. Where there was any life in the creek winding through this valley that depended on a healthy ecosystem above its banks, it is gone.

Trees? Gone. Loam, clay, and rock? Gone.

A ridge called by any familiar name? It too is now gone.

Who gave them the right?

Ownership. A quaint term for destruction. That such a right should be asserted by a creature whose lifespan is a mere four-score years, over a wedge of land and ridge formed three-hundred million years in the past — a claim of judge, jury, and executioner for this province nestled between the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains — is pure hubris.

Able to survive and prosper through four million, sixty-two thousand, five hundred lifespans of one single human, this valley, this self-sustaining microcosm, was unable to outlast the machine. It was hobbled and tripped, chewed up and carted away … gone in the blink of a geologic instant.

This right, this wreckage, we leave behind.


News: I have suspended the SRA Facebook page. Like most, I am both attracted and repelled by social media. Suspending that account, which saw very little attention, allows me to simplify that part of my life. I maintain an active FB page for our farm, mainly to generate customer interest in our offerings. That said, this writer certainly appreciates when you like or share his posts by any means.

Reading this weekend: The Last Grain Race, Newby. And, The Gifts of Reading, Macfarlane.

7 thoughts on “The Wreckage We Leave: A memorial for that which is no more

  1. Suggestions? More specifically I’m curious what measures you feel might have an impact.

    We could take social media for a second and notice that you’ve chosen to drop one account. But FB has only been around a very short time. The planet’s surface we’ve managed for our benefit for quite some time. I’m not persuaded that our actions on this surface are all negative. Where do we draw lines? What measures can we employ to determine success or failure?

    • I would quibble (to steal your word) with the word “managed”. It would be more accurate to say: the planet’s surface has been “used” or “exploited” for our benefit for quite some time.

      There are no real solutions. We do, however, give ourselves too much credit as a species. A look around at endless shopping malls, strip mall architecture, and it’s ilk, seems like a poor substitute for a small valley rich with bio-diversity. I just find it sad and know I am part of that problem.

      • There are no real solutions.

        Ouch. Too defeatist for me. Would there be some moment in recorded history that you could imagine was a time before “exploitation” began? Are pastoral societies so exploitative as to merit a modern scorn? What about pre-Columbian inhabitation of North America? Are humans as a tribe so onerous that the only way forward is extermination?

        I can’t get there. In just a couple generations – say 80 years – the form of agriculture in a Midwestern state such as Missouri has gone from rudimentary fossil fuel (wood and coal fired steam engines as a rarity… mules, horses, oxen, and men doing most of the physical work) to the situation we can readily witness if we want to have a peek. As a teen my father’s home place had no electricity, no gasoline, no herbicides or insecticides. They did have one of the county’s only steam engine tractors. Self sufficiency of itself doesn’t guarantee sustainability, but I find it much easier to argue in favor of this form of production than to advocate surrender and quit.

        • Clem, answers to your questions are awfully complicated and conjectural, and I’m not entirely confident my understandings are correct. However, if it’s a question of if/when/where humans (as distinguished from other species) ever lived sustainably within an ecosystem without wrecking it, the answer is rarely and only at subsistence level. AFAIK, anthropologists have sought that magical tribe of people and disqualified everyone. As humans left behind the state of nature that characterizes other species, living instead within one then the next civilization, levels of consumption have risen well beyond subsistence or sustainability. We relied for millennia on virgin territory to expand our numbers and lifestyles, but the frontier is now closed. We’re everywhere. Some 200 years ago, we discovered a magic elixir, fossil fuels, that substituted for virgin territory and led to absurd levels of abundance and population. There is no solution to the basic need for gigantic energy resources to run civilization. Simple burning of fossil fuels gifted us with a nasty collateral effect: climate change. Technology (much of it wishful thinking at present) cannot provide solution(s) (e.g., efficiency) without engendering further nastiness. We’re stuck.

  2. I can relate, there are dark days when the pain of witnessing destruction overwhelms us all. But hopefully, life offers too much to stay dark forever. Happiness too seems to be a human trait.
    We seem so different from other species of animals. I’ve studied earth history and human history and I still don’t understand our place within the evolution of life on earth. We seem so…different. I can almost believe some alien life form planted us here. But alas, I must accept my place within the evolutionary story of life on earth.
    Is there a reason for human existence, apart from the seeming unquestionable destructiveness of our history? What can we see if we look past the unthinking damage we so often inflict? Can we see something higher or better? Perhaps humans are but a flash in the evolutionary night…a shooting star in terms of life’s evolution. Maybe we were only here to dig up the fossil fuels and warm the planet; because Gaia deemed it so. She needed more carbon in the atmosphere to offset the glacial cycles that have gripped the earth for the last 2.5 million years, a consequence of plate tectonics closing the gap between north and south America. Most life forms don’t like the planet as cold as it’s been for the last several hundred thousand years.
    If we take the long view….the really, really long view, what and does it mean to be human? Breath in, breath out. let time flow…and trust that our life needs no justification. It will unfold (whether we like it or not, understand it or not) just as it was meant to be.

    • Jody,
      I feel a fair kinship with your remark. Last year I read the new work, Ends of The World, by Brannen. An examination of the ways in which life has ended on this planet, it was both humbling and comforting. Deep time is barely aware of our existence. Although, our role is not necessarily “as it was meant to be”. I’d suggest we have (or, had) the option of many different paths.

Any thoughts or questions?