25 August 2011


As I write this a hurricane is approaching New York. There was an earthquake on Tuesday that radiated from Virginia all the way to Canada and shook New York City, although it wasn’t felt where I’m currently located, on sandy Long Island. The hurricane likely will be felt, and all of this is a reminder of the precariousness of life on earth, given the forces of nature. In the comfortable cocoon that civilization provides us we tend to forget how insulated we have become. Only when natural disaster strikes does it register how savage the natural world is, because most of the time the storms, floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis happen somewhere else. People who live closest to nature, such as farmers, have few illusions about it. Those with a more romantic view are urbanites, largely clueless as to reality and perils of the natural world.

Some similarly romanticize the past, and think it would be nice to live in a different era, when things were perhaps simpler. It is true one could go back a few decades and still be comfortable, but further beyond that, not much more than a century, and the inconveniences would be overwhelming. The smells alone would be intolerable to a modern person. Think of life without electricity, indoor plumbing, toilet paper, refrigeration; never mind the Internet. Think of life with exposure to diseases now vanquished, when more than half of children born would not survive to adulthood, along with the ever present threat of war, famine, and pestilence.

There is a window beyond which we would find ourselves very uncomfortable, and it is likely our descendants would find our present equally unpalatable. For we are of our place and time whether we like it or not, just as our ancestors were of their place and time. We are part of the world we live in, and but one stop on a procession of generations that stretches backward and forward in time.

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