Fifty years ago I would backpack into the Sierra Nevada mountains, often returning to my favorite place there, Kings Canyon park. One could drink from the waters flowing down from the high country without treating it. I still remember the difference between the taste of the south fork and the middle fork of the Kings River, dipping my Sierra cup into the rushing river as I hiked along. The taste of that river, and the difference between the taste of the two forks, of the river, remains as vivid to me as though it were yesterday.
We buy bison meat from a ranch whose practice of husbandry includes the restoration of the natural grassland that was once there. No one is now alive when there were millions of bison on the great grasslands of what is now called by the name Dakota, the name taken from the name of the people who lived there then and still do. There are written records, but the people who saw this are all long dead.
I read in National Geographic magazine that the caribou herds are disappearing. Herds that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands are now just a percentage of that, in one large herd only one in ten remain. The magnitude of this event is mystifying, as the scientists cannot point to any single cause. There is additional pressure from insects as the temperatures in the far north are rising faster that elsewhere on the planet, and some encroachment by roads and mines that impinge on their habitat, but the losses far exceed what would be expected by these reasons. The indigenous people say that the caribou have left, no longer wishing to be here. The chance to experience the great herds as they journey hundreds of miles through open country twice yearly is almost gone. When the people now alive who can still witness this are dead it will all only be a memory.
Many climatologists believe that the Amazon jungle may soon reach a tipping point, causing it to completely disappear due to changes in the climate and ruthlessly accelerated by the cutting of trees to make room for cattle needed by companies such as Walmart to provide us with meat at the lowest possible prices. At some point, perhaps in only a hundred years, this will result in the Amazon basin becoming savannah, rather than jungle. All the millions of species adapted to the jungle will of course then disappear. For a long time people will be able to speak of having traveled into the jungles there, but, actually, not so long, only a hundred or two hundred years, the blink of an eye.
There won’t be a need for elders telling stories of these lost wonders around a campfire. The tales of what were will exist in images and words instead of memories and voices. The tale tellers will be in the form of bits of information, even the recounting of what once was will no longer require someone who knew. It will all be properly documented. Perhaps people of the future may feel that is enough. After all they will then have the moon and the planets to turn to, so everyone can look forward to that. We even have a name for this new time, the Anthropocene. That makes it ok, doesn’t it?
Or, against all evidence arising from contemporary humanity, perhaps they shall mourn what once was, creating a metanoia for our species sufficient to become Homo sapiens¹ in more than name only. But they will still be very lonely, heartbreakingly so.
Comments are welcome
¹ Homo sapiens, Latin, meaning wise humans