Last night I went to hear a friend / colleague / previous PhD committee member (has it almost been a year since I graduated?) read from his new book, Pieces of the Plains. John Janovy is a biologist, so his perspective on life is much different than mine--microscopic (studies parasites and such) and lots of method. Lots of being in the trenches. He was also born (as was I) and educated in Oklahoma, which is the subject of my next book. But more on that later.
Janovy was asked about the current extinctions we are beginning to witness of species, and if he saw a curtailing of that being possible. No, he said flat out, no, no way--not with how humans kill each other, not with how we kill for oil and in the name of god. Then he told the college students there that when they reach his age, in about 50 years, they'd be living in a far different world of hunger, lack of water, homelessness, global government chaos--all as oil runs out. I got that from watching a recent episode of World Without Oil on National Geographic (title?). It was frightening and only the tip of the berg.
Back to extinctions. I am still young, I still have some hope, but it's dwindling fast. Janovy said he is in the top 1% of humans who ever lived that have witnessed such natural diversity on earth, and that such diversity will very shortly come to an end, so enjoy it while you can. Species will weaken as the gene pool shrinks.
We've had other significant, 90th percentile global extinctions, but this 6th one as many folks call it--even if overcome--would take millions of years to repair, to evolve back to what we see now on the planet. It took millions of years before, it will again, if it happens.
I wonder if I should spend every waking chance I have to sit on my deck listening to the cardinals, blue jays, finches, sparrows, mourning doves and others before they vanish. 1% of bird species go functionally extinct each year. I wonder if I should sell my house and buy those 100 acres now and live in a tent so I can enjoy and interact more fully with nature while it is still here. I wonder if our natural descriptions today will seem as foreign to someone in a few decades as the pioneer descriptions I read of buffalo and elk wandering through wheat fields.
I wonder if this all has to be so dark. Humans are like my students and procrastinate until the last minute, until they have no choice but to do the work. I wonder if that's genetic, or if it's the same old song and dance of capitalism, of self-preservation, of blah blah blah.
I wonder if my next book will matter, if I should even write it. Last night Janovy quoted Oklahoma historian Angie Debo, whose 1930-ish work slapped the country's collective face as to Indian policy in Oklahoma territory and its early statehood years. Keep in mind, in 1930, many folks who instigated those policies were still very much alive. I quote her:
"Oklahoma is more than just another state. It is a lens in which the long rays of time are focused into the brightest of light. In its magnifying clarity, dim facets of the American character stand more clearly revealed. For in Oklahoma all the experiences that went into the making of the nation have been speeded up. Here all the American traits have been intensified. The one who can interpret Oklahoma can grasp the meaning of America in the modern world."
As I look at the history of my Mennonite family coming over from Germany and Russia in the 1870s, I am caught in an impossible vice: their faith, hope, and work ethic was unique, was incredible, was and is so praise worthy I can't put it into words. And yet, either as government pawns and / or willing paticipants through missionary work in Oklahoma territory, they helped to so efficiently destroy the ecology of native flora and fauna and dozens of Native American cultures within a few decades--if not within one decade.
This very fine line scares the heck out of me, and I have to have faith that as I continue to research books and family stories, it will play itself out in the right way--without guilt, blame, or condemnation, but with honest and direct light, and somehow with the same hope and faith my ancestors had facing a world of incredible uncertainty. Phase 2 begins next week.
P.S. -- It's snowing hard outside. That doesn't help things.